Think Newcastle, think Gateshead, think Geordie, think Tyneside, think Tyne Bridge.
It is the most obvious physical symbol of our region and is known throughout the world. Six years from now, the iconic structure linking Newcastle and Gateshead will celebrate its 100th birthday but, frankly, at this point it’s a waste.
Anyone who has walked it in recent years cannot fail to have noticed that the once majestic arches of the bridge are thick with rust. Indeed, fears have been expressed about its long-term safety if the decline is not halted soon.
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Competitors in last year’s Great North Run, as they crossed the bridge, were heard commenting on its state of decay. And as Newcastle’s main gateway, what kind of impression does the sad, faded passage give visitors?
I hope the city is on the mend and doing its best to get rid of the adverse economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even those perennial underachievers, Newcastle United, are enjoying a welcome resurgence under ambitious new owners. It’s the old rusty bridge that’s collapsing.
As the “story guy” of ChronicleLive, allow me to give you some insight into our beloved Tyne Bridge. Built by Teesside engineers Dorman Long and Co, the magnificent arched structure was designed by Mott, Hay and Anderson who based their design on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, which in turn was influenced by Hell Gate Bridge in New York.
After four years of work, the bridge was officially opened by King George V on October 10, 1928, as thousands of Tynesiders looked on. The Chronicle reports at the time of a 21-gun salute that literally shook the city. There were “shrill whistles from ships, workshops and factories, and the full-bodied howl of steamship sirens” while “bells rang from the church towers, an airplane flew low and orchestras were playing”. A legend was born and the bridge instantly became a source of regional pride.
We are a long way from the sad state of things today. The bridge’s last major paint job came back in 2000, and it shows. But what chance of the essential renovation before the centenary of the bridge in 2028?
Unfortunately, the latest rumors don’t seem promising. Just last month we reported that a £40m finance bid to restore the rusting level crossing to its proper state, as well as refurbish the Central Freeway, was awaiting government approval for more than two years.
There was, we noted, a cautious expectation that the Department of Transportation would approve the project, but city leaders were reluctant to commit to the overdue repairs being completed in time for 2028.
It all feels like a kick in the teeth for those of us in our area who cherish the Tyne Bridge and for whom it has always been present in our lives.
Imagine those in power leaving London’s iconic Tower Bridge to deteriorate into a rusty mess. It just wouldn’t happen. No wonder so many people in the North continue to feel let down.
In 1928 much of the £1.2 million bill for the new Tyne Bridge was borne by the central government. It’s time for them to cough again – quickly.